The biggest narrative of the 2014-15 CWHL season, at least for its U.S.-based team, was one of dissatisfaction. First the work stoppage by the Boston Blades over contract negotiations turning sour, then the espnW story that revealed players were responsible for paying their own way to the Clarkson Cup Final. It was more than enough dramatic twists for one year, but then came Janine Weber’s Clarkson Cup-winning goal.
When asked to donate the stick she scored the game-winning goal with to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada, Weber obliged, only to realize that would leave her without a stick.
Now other NWHL players are facing a similar situation.
Unlike the CWHL, which only has been able to cover partial equipment up until now, NWHL players still had the option of purchasing their own customized sticks if they wanted to stay with a certain brand. This, however, has lead to players who chose to purchase their own sticks with a familiar dilemma.
Kelley Steadman, the scoringest Buffalo Beauts player despite her position as a practice player, tweeted Wednesday afternoon that she was down to only one hockey stick for the remaining three weeks of the regular season.
While she finished on a lighter note with, “#helpmeimpoor,” Steadman’s joke was not far off from reality.
After her former Providence University teammate posted about Weber’s stick situation on social media, Weber found a one-time sponsor in STX, who shipped her a number of new sticks to replace her hall-of-famer. After reaching out to the NWHL, Today’s Slapshot learned that they are already in talks with Bauer and BASE Hockey to source replacements for the practice player.
Steadman not having a stick isn’t the point of the story, however. It’s a symptom of a bigger issue: the financial solubility of the NWHL’s players.
New York Riveters forward Brooke Ammerman spoke with Today’s Slapshot in late January about how her season had progressed this far as well as her own future in the NWHL. Notably, the key factor for Ammerman when deciding whether or to return to the NWHL for its second season will be money.
The league’s minimum salary is $10,000 over an 18-game season. By comparison, the American Hockey League’s minimum salary was $42,375 over a 76 game season in 2014-15. On a per-game basis, every NWHL player will make at least $555.55, while AHL players will make at minimum $557.56. However, AHL players are obviously not expected to hold down a second job on top of practice and travel time.
Ammerman estimated that she spends approximately six hours at the rink on practice days on top of her full-time job as NWHL public relations. With practice twice a week, a minimum of 14 games spent on the road – where travel times vary between two and eight hours – and all the time spent interacting with fans, players earn less than minimum wage.
“These are the best of the best hockey players in the world, not just the country, and not just Canada. In the world,” Ammerman said firmly. ” I think –– and this goes for all female athletes –– that we deserve the right to get paid more. We work extremely hard and I think Jenny (Scrivens) and myself can say it too, you know: we do the same travel, we work (as) hard as our spouses and there’s obviously a huge difference. That’s just so frustrating. We do everything right and…obviously we have to get people in the building, we have to get people to pay. But I think they have to pay us more money.
“There’s obviously been a tragic injury with Denna (Laing),” Amerman continued. “Girls are getting hurt, getting significant injuries. They’re putting their bodies out there for the good of the game but at some point there has to be more.
“Did I ever think I’d get paid playing ice hockey?” Ammerman asked. “No. I never thought that. But I do know how my body feels, and how my teammates feel when we wake up on Monday morning after playing as hard as I did. I think that’s something that’s hard to say: that I should be paid more. but I think these players have to be, at some point. (A part-time salary) is not going to cut it for what you’re doing to your body day in and day out.”
Ammerman makes a good point.
Although it was easy to celebrate the NWHL’s arrival as the first pro women’s league to pay its players in September, by February the shine has worn off. A little pay is good; it’s a step in the right direction. But it isn’t sustainable for many of the women in the league who aren’t full-time hockey players.
While some of the women in the league are paid to play pro hockey by multiple sources, such as National Team or Olympic players, who get a yearly stipend on top of the NWHL salary, those who only play in the NWHL only have so much to give to their teams. And those whose visas prevent them from working in anything outside of hockey (such as Canadian Connecticut Whale player Shannon Doyle) face an even tougher reality, where jobs are few and frequently only part-time.
The NWHL was supposed to offset the fact that it could only offer a part-time position alongside a part-time salary to 72 of its 86 players by offering full equipment to players, helping them find housing and jobs.
It’s a tall order to organize the lives of more than 50 women, however, and even more to ask of an organization in its first year. As such, not everything is a perfect match.
And while 72 of these players are salaried, the remaining 14 players are practice players, who are only paid for the games they play in but many of whom also attend fundraising and high-profile events to raise awareness of the league. These players had even less equipment covered than their salaried counterparts.
There will continue to be further difficulties with the growing women’s hockey leagues. Many of their players are a particular breed of vulnerable, playing their sport on the weekends and training in the evenings. A part-time salary is better than many of these women ever dreamed of.
The part-time salaries are a step in the right direction, but the journey is obviously far from finished.
At some point, even a player’s love for the game has to give way to reality. Unless it can step up its game in the salary department, the NWHL will not be able to retain every player it was hoping to keep.